Shadow Baby

Book Cover
Alison McGhee
4
Friday, Jan 4, 2019

Shadow Baby is a beautifully told, somewhat meandering story of a young teen coming to grips with the loss and grief that surrounds her. Clara has a wonderfully-developed, distinctive narrative voice that brims with personality.

A brief digression to reference an article from the New York Times, The Stories That Bind Us.

What is the secret sauce that holds a family together? What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy? . . .

The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative. . . .

The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness. . . .

Clara has no family narrative. She has a mother. A taciturn mother who refuses to speak about the past, about Clara's unknown father, estranged grandfather, or twin who died in childbirth. She knows only that they existed. Her solution has always been to invent stories of her own. About everything. Her missing family, the people she encounters, objects. She creates fake books for her school book reports. She lives in stories, so much so she sometimes gets fuzzy about what is real and what she has invented.

And that, I think, is all I should say about Clara's tale. It's the way she would want things. Instead, I'll let some of her own words say more.

Let me tell you that a girl of eleven is capable of far more than is dreamt of in most universes.

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Tamar took a cursory look. How I love that word. There may not be anyone in the world who loves the word cursory as much as I do. That's how I am about certain words.

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Books? Books are sacred. Books are to me what the host is to the priest, the oasis to the desert wanderer, the arrival of winged seraphim to a dying man. That's the main reason why I can't write a book report. I can't stand what a book report does, boils a book down to a few sentences about plot. What about the words that make each book unique, an island unto itself, words like cursory and ingenuous and immerse? What about the heart and soul?

Plot? Who cares?

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The chives were the first things up in the spring. You could see them poking their narrow green stalks up before the snow melted, like miniature quills from the olden days. Chives thrive in the cold. They are not intimidated by lingering snow and ice. They are indomitable.

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Exclamation marks kept stabbing out into the air after the words that I didn't want to let out. Stab and stab and stab, words and more hurtful words pushing against each other inside me, dying to get out.

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I couldn't answer him. I was already into my train of thought. Words had piled themselves up in my brain and they could not be stopped. They had to emerge in the order I had already given them.

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"Stories? What about stories?"

"I told him that stories are the way you look at the world. That stories are your salvation."

Chris K.

Written by Chris K.

Fun fact: Experts estimate that the average cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour.